Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Benching a superstar is madness. Or is it?Posted by Eriq Gardner at 1:01am
Would you ever consider benching one of your top draft picks for 20 percent of his games?
If your initial response resembles something like "Are you nuts?," consider how Adrian Gonzalez performed in 2008 against right-handed pitching and left-handed pitching:
Adrian Gonzalez vs. righties: 381 AB, .320 AVG, 24 HR, 81 RBI, 76 R, 0 SB
Adrian Gonzalez vs. Lefties: 235 AB, .213 AVG, 12 HR, 38 RBI, 27 R, 0 SB
As seen above, "A-Go" has a horrible time hitting for anything other than a bit of power against left-handed pitchers. He's not alone: Grady Sizemore, Josh Hamilton, Carlos Pena, David Ortiz and Brad Hawpe are just a few left-handed stars who hit significantly better against righties than they do against lefties.
As baseball fans, we've grown up with a simple truth: Lefties hit righties better, and vice versa. In the major leagues, managers exploit platoons all the time to deal with this phenomenon. In some cases, fantasy managers may wish to do the same.
On my blog, I've explored better use of reserve spots for a fantasy bench, including the use of platoons.
In most instances, this might mean shuffling left-handed players with noticeable splits in and out of the active lineup to maximize production from a single roster position. Players like Luke Scott, Skip Schumaker and Shin-Soo Choo should come relatively cheap in drafts and auctions. Rostering two, and interchanging them in a lineup depending on a given day's match-up, is a fairly effective way to not only increase production at one spot, but also save some auction money or a top draft pick to fill another hole. The sacrifice that a fantasy baseball manager gives for this luxury is a bench spot, some roster flexibility, and six months of getting up each morning to check on pitching match-ups.
That leads us to an interesting and almost unthinkable question: Might we try the same thing with a superstar and improve upon his production?
To do an analysis, we've had to make some basic assumptions after some research on the percentage of right-handed starting pitchers in baseball (about 70 percent) and the average number of times a left-handed batter could expect to see left-handed and right-handed relief pitchers in a single game.
From that, we deduced we'd be playing a star like Adrian Gonzalez approximately 80 percent of his starts (some vs. lefties out of necessity). Given that, we'd expect to retain about 94 percent of his stats vs. right-handed pitchers and about 57 percent of his stats vs. left-handed pitchers. We'd be using a cheap platoon partner like Lyle Overbay (.291 AVG, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 61 R, and a steal vs. righties in 2008) for the rest, accumulating approximately 26 percent of his stats vs. righties and about 10 percent of his stats vs. lefties.
We didn't adjust for strength of pitching, but what's the outcome?
Adrian Gonzalez in 2008: 616 AB, .279 AVG, 36 HR, 119 RBI, 103 R, 0 steals
Our platoon: 610 AB, .289 AVG, 34 HR, 115 RBI, 104 R, 0 steals
In other words, pretty close and unfortunately, inconclusive. Still, the strategy holds promise, especially if we see Gonzalez' stats regress this season or if we could use the waiver wire for better replacement stats.
Performances vary year-to-year and small sample sizes can be especially tricky to navigate, unbeholden to the law of averages.
To be honest, we don't think we'd have the guts to actually try this out for real on any player rated as a fifth-round pick and above. But for players like Carlos Pena or Brad Hawpe? No hesitation whatsoever.
Eriq Gardner is a New York-based writer and founder of Fantasy Ball Junkie, a website for advanced fantasy baseball enthusiasts.